By now you’ve probably seen some sort of advertising for the “romantic” film Fifty Shades of Grey, based on the novel by E.L. James, based on her fan fiction of the Twilight series, except that in the fanfic Edward is a billionaire business owner and Bella is the cub reporter assigned to interview him. Or something. I don’t really know, and I don’t really care.
Unfortunately, both the book and the film are not what the advertising says. They’re not romantic, and they’re not good portrayals of healthy BDSM. I’d personally rather you didn’t spend your money on them*. So here are six of the best ways to spend this weekend instead of seeing the film.
6. Read the source material. — If you haven’t read Twilight, read that instead. It’s not classic literature, but I guarantee you it’s better than 50 Shades**. Plus, even though there’s some questionable behavior on the parts of the characters in Twilight, it’s not nearly as bad as what Christian Grey engages in. Or if you really don’t think you’ll like Twilight, you might enjoy the early books in the Anita Blake series. I’d personally start with Guilty Pleasures, skip The Laughing Corpse (unless you like gross-out horror), and stop reading after Blue Moon because that’s when the author really let things turn from supernatural horror with some sex to supernatural erotica with vague plot elements***.
5. Enjoy something that’s actually romantic. — Somehow, Fifty Shades is being marketed as a romantic and sexy film. Jamie Dornan is sexy, I guess, though I tend to see him more as the serial killer character in The Fall**** — and you see plenty of his body in that, if that’s what you’re into. But personally, I’d recommend you watch a more romantic film. I hear Nicholas Sparks movies are good for that. I personally enjoy Keeping the Faith, Love Actually, and anything with John Cusack — Must Love Dogs isn’t bad. As for books, I’m not up on romance novels, but I’ve been friends with Joan Johnston’s son for twenty years, so I’ll throw her a plug here. Go read one of Joan’s romance novels.
4. Volunteer at a shelter. — Fifty Shades is a portrayal of a non-consensual, abusive relationship that hides behind BDSM as a way to make it seem “okay” that one person is completely controlling another. But it’s not okay. Every day, thousands of women are victimized in precisely the way that Ana is victimized by Christian, except that in most cases the victimizer isn’t a 27-year-old CEO. Take a little time out this weekend to visit a shelter for women and children. Help cook, or clean, or just sit and talk to the people there. I guarantee you it’s a better use of two hours, and it costs a lot less than a trip to the movies.
3. Write your own fanfic. — As I mentioned before, and as you probably know, Fifty Shades was originally a Twilight fanfic. Because I know what it’s like to want to extend your favorite fictional universes, I know that many fans of Twilight have come up with scenarios in their head about what else the characters might do. Why not write one of them? You don’t have to post it anywhere, but if you want to, there are plenty of sites. Archive Of Our Own is a good place to start. And if you’re not a writer, why not read what’s available? I’m sure you’ll find one that tickles your fancy, and it might even become your new headcanon.
2. Learn more about BDSM. — Does the BDSM angle in Fifty Shades titillate you? Do you think being tied up, spanked, and told what to do is your thing? Are you not sure? Well, the wrong place to learn about it is in fiction. That’s a good place to get started with the tickling of your fancy, but — and take it from me, as someone who has published erotica in the past (under a pseudonym, thank you very much) — writers gloss over things all the time. If you really want to learn about BDSM, you need to attend a community gathering, often called a “munch”. The main place munches are advertised is an adults-only social network called Fetlife. Once you join, you can look for events in your area, contact the organizers, and discuss going out and meeting other people who can help answer your questions.
1. See a different movie. — If you absolutely, positively must see a movie in theaters this weekend, why not try Jupiter Ascending, which is apparently a movie where Sean Bean has to stop aliens from doing something to Earth? Or perhaps Kingsman, sort of a James Bond style story? There’s also Selma, about a pivotal point in our nation’s history (if you’re an American); Paddington, about a bear that dresses the same as Taylor Swift; Blackhat, about Thor hacking computers; and Project Almanac, which appears to be a cross between The Butterfly Effect and Chronicle. There’s plenty of movies out that don’t romanticize grooming, sexual abuse, and non-consent. Go see one.
If for some reason Fifty Shades is a date movie for you and your paramour, and you plan to have sex afterward, please do yourself a favor and don’t re-enact any of it. No matter how much your partner pressures you to. Not unless you know exactly what you’re doing. BDSM can be fun, but only if you are being safe about it, and doing what they did in a movie isn’t necessarily safe. Learn from real people, watch real people, and then do it with a real person. There’s nothing wrong with taking it slow. Trust me.
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** I have those too — again, I didn’t have to pay for them — but I haven’t had a chance to read them yet. Too much other stuff in the way, including the new Richard Roberts book that I’m really looking forward to.